Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is Science Fiction Fandom Tearing Itself Apart?

I keep seeing this question in my Facebook feed: Is Science Fiction Fandom Tearing Itself Apart?

Betteridge's Law states that the answer to a question in a headline is always "no". In this case, though, the answer is "mu".

Haha, yes, of course Science Fiction Fandom is tearing itself apart. Science Fiction Fandom has been tearing itself apart since before 1939.  (I mean seriously. If you haven't read about some of the feuds in fandom over the last seventy years, it's worth exploring. (For example)) It doesn't seem much worse for it.

The latest boondoggle - as opposed to the Breendoggle, which was serious - has been going on for a couple of years, and is about some works being kept out of the Hugo Awards. John Scalzi had something to say about that yesterday, and I'll talk about that after I've put in my two cents.

I went out last week with four friends from my former workplace, and we decided that Gravity was the best SF film in the last couple of years. At least, four of us did. One voted for Her. Four of us were pretty happy and one was a bit miffed, but in the grand scheme of things, who cares? Does it cosmically-speaking matter?

Imagine how surprised we'd be, then, if this week Breitbart were to write a column about our drinking group, saying we weren't open to other points of view and it was all a politically-minded lock-out by a self-selected elite who had established themselves as the arbiter of social mores. It would bring a "Wha?" even from the person who liked Her and was up for a bit of revenge on the group.

A few more people go to the Science Fiction Worldcon than go to Wednesday night chats with me at the bar - about 7,000 people attend a Worldcon. But not very many more. If I'm reading Box Office Mojo correctly, 3,353,700 people in the US alone paid to see Gravity.

Looking at it another way, Worldcon people (and I am one, at least on occasion) are a very small percentage of the people who consume SF. Even of those who consider themselves not just consumers, but "fans" or even "fandom", Worldcon members constitute a minuscule portion. But, they are Worldcon members, and as such, they get a vote on the Worldcon's awards, the Hugo Awards.

It's weird, therefore, to see article after blogpost after Facebook post from people demanding their chance to "take back" the Hugo from the SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) who it's claimed have appropriated it.

No one has appropriated the Hugos. The award is exactly where it's been since 1953. Everyone who supports the Worldcon (i.e. buys a supporting membership) can nominate movies, books, stories, fan sites and so forth for a Hugo, and subsequently vote in the ballot. The people who are members, vote. The people who are not members, don't vote.

There's no point anyone getting their knickers in a knot. The Hugos aren't significantly more important than my Wednesday night session in the grand scheme of things, and unlike my drinking sessions, I don't get to veto your attendance. Anybody who hands over the membership fee gets to go. It's about as freewheeling as a ballot can get. Since a few of the most frothy people attempting to "take back" the Hugo claim they regularly write best-sellers, it's a wonder they care. I wouldn't expect Suzanne Collins to stride into the bar next Wednesday night and berate me for not nominating The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as best movie - she's too busy counting her money, I'm sure.

Yet something is getting under their skin. It's a popularity contest, they say, but the books and movies that win aren't very popular. Thing is, those books and movies are very popular - with people who go to the Worldcon. And it's their vote.  But it doesn't have anything to do with sales success, the true measure of popularity. Once again, those works are popular with people who go to the Worldcon. That's all it takes. And that's all it means.

Anyway, apparently John Scalzi feels much the same about it. In You Can't Take Back What You Already Have, he details how to join a con (pay some money) and how to nominate and vote (which he explains in his inimitable sarky fashion) and goes on to say:
But to repeat: None of this contitutes “taking back” anything — it merely means you are participating in a process that was always open to you. And, I don’t know. Do you want a participation medal or something? A pat on the head? It seems to me that most of the people nominating and voting for the Hugos are doing it with a minimum of fuss. If it makes you feel important by making a big deal out of doing a thing you’ve always been able to do — and that anyone with an interest and $50 has been able to do — then shine on, you crazy diamonds. But don’t be surprised if no one else is really that impressed. Seriously: join the club, we’ve been doing this for a while now. [1]
So why do people go to Worldcon, if not to secretly plan the take over of Science Fiction?

Various reasons. Meet old friends, talk about other cons they've been to, discuss books with like-minded people, see old movies and anime in the screening rooms.  Drink. Browse the dealers' tables for comics and posters and animation cels and out of print books.  Meet authors and badger them to sign your books. Sidle up to editors and pitch something. Sing filksongs, go to the masquerade as an entrant or attendee.  Go to panels and hear your favorite authors and fans discuss science-fictiony things, and ask them questions. Learn about things like stunt archery and re-enacting. Hang out with people who've been going to Worldcons for up to fifty years and listen to them talk about what real fan feuds were like. And, of course, go the the Hugo Award ceremony. That's a couple of hours of entertainment right there.

[1] The supporting membership period is over now, so it'll cost you $210 if you join up today. Edit: No, it won't. You can still buy supporting membership for $40. Sorry about that!

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